Snowdrops have emerged and spring is definitely in the air. This also means that the time has come to seek out some seed potatoes to start them chitting in the windowsill. Chitting, or sprouting potatoes is done to encourage new healthy growth by limiting the chits to 3-4 (by breaking off excess sprouts) eventually resulting in a more compact plant. This head start is especially beneficial to first early, or second early varieties.
I would advise anyone to grow a more “exotic” gourmet potato variety. Supermarkets are full of standard “King Edward”-like varieties which are cheap as….chips! There is really nothing wrong with these, but I would prefer to reward my gardening efforts with something culinary extraordinary on the table. This year I have “red duke of York”, “Charlotte” and “International kidney” (AKA the jersey royal) ready to go. There are a bewildering number of varieties available (you can find these at the British potato variety database website). Different potato varieties have specific purpose bred characteristics and this determines whether you end up with a waxy or a floury potato, when to plant and harvest (first early, second early, maincrop etc.), how they look and/or taste and whether they have specific disease resistance. It all depends what you want: For example first or second earlies are less affected by late season blight, which can decimate a crop, but maincrop potatoes are better for long term winter storage. So why not have a mix of different varieties which suits your requirements throughout the seazons.
The top 10 of the most popular, culinary potato varieties with good yields and disease resistance:
- Charlotte: A waxy second early variety, and voted by many to be the Number 1 potato
- Anya: A second early variety. a waxy knobbly, nutty variety. Bred from the famous pink fir apple
- Rocket: a extra early variety. The earliest potato which can be used as a salad potato
- Lady Christl: A high yielding early waxy salad type with yellow flesh. Excellent disease resistance
- Cara: a high yielding maincrop variety that has a good resistance to eelworm, viruses and blight
- Stemster: A forgiving, multi-purpose maincrop potato variety that has excellent nematode resistance
- Belle de Fontenay or BF15 (x flava hybrid of belle de Fontenay): French bred elongated, waxy early salad potatoes belonging to the same group. Exquisite taste (BF15 is bred specifically in Brittany, France)
- International Kidney: Early or maincrop variety. Better known as the “Jersey Royal”. Delicious!
- Red duke of york: An early variety. In between floury and waxy texture
- Sante: A maincrop multipurpose potato which thrives in all soils. Contains (apparently) less calories than your average potato
There is also an array of strange heirloom varieties with coloured flesh (pink, purple, blue), which I have missed out on, because I do not find hem aesthetically pleasing on the dinner plate. But that’s just a personal opinion (no blue / purple potato mash for me please!), and you should definetly try them if you like something different on your table.
Potatoes can be planted at around mid march for the earliest potatoes, or after the chance of severe frost has diminished. Keep an eye out on the weather, because very cold/wet conditions can cause rot. The condition of the soil is more important than planting time for good yields. The soil should be well worked without lumps and with plenty of well rotted manure. Potatoes plants are hungry feeders! Plant seed potatoes about 6-8 inches down, and about 12 inches apart. Earthing-up of potatoes should be done as soon as shoots appear, and should be repeated to cover the remaining foliage. The plant will fill out and fuel your potato production underground, once the mound has reached its limit.
Make sure to keep pest, such as slugs under control because they can be a real nightmare and damage both tubers and the leaves. Use slug nematode worms if you opt for an organic pest control solution.
Water regularly to prevent drying out and include nutrients: Supplementing with watery comfrey or seaweed extracts is good to get a bumper harvest.
Early varieties will be ready in about 10 weeks but maincrops take till late summer/autumn. Ideally use a flat pronged fork to lift the potatoes and prevent damage to their skin. It is also possible to remove potatoes from the base of the plant while the plant is still growing to allow a continual fresh harvest.
Already looking forward to the new potato experience?